Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Blain Neufeld

Committee Members

Julius Sensat, Stan Husi


Decent Peoples, International Justice, Legitimacy, Rawls, Social Epistemology, Toleration


In The Law of Peoples, John Rawls attempts to work out principles of justice for the foreign policy of a reasonably just liberal people. One of his primary goals is to establish the minimum requirements necessary for a people to be an equal member (or a 'members in good standing') within a Society of Peoples (SoP). While Rawls believes that all well-ordered liberal peoples meet these requirements, he also believes that there are non-liberal peoples that are capable of doing so as well. He thus imagines the possibility of a non-liberal, well-ordered people. He calls such peoples Decent Hierarchical Societies (DHS). For Rawls, then, a fully just SoP need not constituted exclusively by liberal peoples.

In this paper I argue against the inclusion of DHSs within the SoP on social epistemic grounds. More specifically, I argue that because DHSs do not secure for their members certain liberal rights--namely, the freedom of speech (and, consequently, freedom of the press)--such members will not have available to them the necessary means to give their legitimate (or free) support. This will result in DHSs violating a necessary condition of 'well-orderedness,' namely, that members freely support the basic institutions of their society, or what I call the political legitimacy condition. As such, DHSs should not be regarded as members in good standing within the SoP.

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